Who “Run” The World – Women Now Out-Pace Men In Long And Short Distance Marathons

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Most of us are familiar with the iconic black and white image above. In the center is Katherine Switzer, the first woman to ever compete in the Boston Marathon, in 1967. But at that time, women were not actually allowed to enter, let alone run the event. By registering as “K.Switzer” so as not to alert race organizers to her gender, she was able to compete, but she ended up doing far more that that.

Katherine had no intention of making history, as she claims in this excerpt from her book on her official website, and she certainly wasn’t trying to prove anything. She simply wanted to run. There was quite a scuffle when race organizers realized she had somehow slipped past them, but to this day women around the country recognize her bravery and barrier-breaking act that was the start of something great.

Back then, it was not common for women to win marathons, let alone participate, but today it is an entirely different story. According to Running USA, in 2015 women made up 57% of the race-running population, including 3 mile Thanksgiving Turkey Trots, to 26.2 mile full marathons.

The reasons for women wanting to compete are varied: to win medals, get healthy, or participate in a social cause. Another interesting trend is the decrease in women-only marathons, and former CEO of New York Road Runners, which operates the New York City Marathon, Mary Wittenberg, says this is because at all other races, women are now making up the majority.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, the big tidal wave of women in running happened in the 90s, when events like Breast Cancer awareness marathons started to appear on the scene. One major event which started an avalanche of women flocking to the sport was when Oprah Winfrey completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994, during the hey-dey of ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ when she would talk very publicly about her weight struggles.

Writer Amby Burfoot who used to work for Runner’s World magazine told the WSJ he was sent to cover Oprah’s achievement, and he also saw first hand how breast cancer charity marathons started happening around the same time, with tens of thousands of women signing up to participate.

“It was the funniest thing we’d heard in the world. We were Runner’s World, and we were completely unaware that there was this tidal wave,” he said. Amby is also the author of a book titled ‘First Ladies of Running’.

When Oprah ran the Marine Corp race, men still made up the majority of marathon participants – 68%. But since that year and right up to 2010, the tables have turned. There are a number of factors believed to have sparked this surge of women. With the involvement of charities, the innovation of active wear, and athletic advertising reflecting a more diverse, female edge to it, it has become a heady mix of female empowerment.

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In 2015, Running USA says women made up 44% of marathon runners, and 61% of half-marathons. In the LA marathon, women made up 59% of entrants through charities, which allows them to run for free if they raise a certain amount of money.

These races have become less of a hard-edge competitive field for only certain types of athletes, and more of a diverse space for all types of people to participate in for a number of different reasons. Brands such as Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, Athleta and more have recognized the enormous influx of women in the world of social and competitive sports and this is clearly reflected in their advertising.

This could potentially have a knock-on effect in other endurance sports over the next few years, as Anne-Marije Rook points out in Cyclingtips.com there are more cycling and adventure brands featuring female empowerment messages.

“The bike industry has really been stepping up their women’s advertising game lately, and there are some really cool videos floating around the internet,” she says, listing 3 recent favorites which clearly exemplify the trend.

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It seems the athletic wear industry is waking up to the fact that allowing women to make them feel confident in themselves is a great way to push product, make money, while also selling a very realistic aspiration in its imagery.

But running in particular, more than other endurance sports such as swimming or cycling, has become a draw card for women because of the social aspect, as well as the philanthropic element such as running to raise funds for a charitable organization.

There are various groups spearheaded by moms and local women who gather their community in an event like a marathon with the chance to connect and support one another in life, not just on the race track. With the many health benefits that come with a simple sport like running, it is the perfect fit for busy women from all walks of life.

And as for the serious female marathon runners, it’s pretty awesome to know that they are in good company, not outnumbered anymore, when it comes to taking part in a race. And with pioneers like Katherine Switzer who paved the way for so many women watching her and learning about her brave act, it is a reminder to us all to dare go where we have not ventured before.

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  1. Pingback: She Ran 1 Marathon On All 7 Continents In 7 Days. Also, She Happens To Be 70 Years Old! - GirlTalkHQ

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